Discover Your Island

Island University Scientists to Research Trash Problem in Corpus Christi’s Waters

July 21, 2017

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Public health, animal health and tourism can all be affected by the litter on Corpus Christi’s beaches and in the bay. That’s why Dr. Jeremy Conkle, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, will be working with the City of Corpus Christi to conduct a storm water debris study. By collecting floating trash after storms, Conkle and his team will be able to analyze the items and share findings with the City of Corpus Christi. The study, which has received funding from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program (CBBEP), will run until the end of 2017.

“We hope that this data, which will be shared with stake holders and made publically available, will inform efforts already underway by the City of Corpus Christi and interested community groups to improve solid waste infrastructure but also change the cultural attitudes of our citizens regarding trash,” said Conkle. “We have a great, beautiful city to live in. Let’s make sure it stays beautiful.”

Trash in our waters is harmful on many fronts. Plastics found in the bay break down into smaller pieces, or what researchers refer to as “microplastics.” These microplastics, which often contain chemicals, are consumed by aquatic organisms like fish. In turn, humans consume the fish, which could lead to environmental contaminants exposure. Additionally, the city is harmed by trash in other ways. Conkle believes the trash will affect our tourism and recreation economies, which has trickle-down impacts on our overall economy.

According to Conkle, Corpus Christi receives trash from local, national and international places. Debris found in the bay is mostly from local sources. Some of the debris found on the seashore is from local sources. However, a large portion of debris is deposited by long-shore currents, which capture trash from the larger ocean currents in the Gulf of Mexico. This means that trash found on our seashore could come from surrounding states and as far away as Mexico or the Caribbean. By collecting the debris, the researchers will have a better understanding of the scale of the problem, but also more knowledge of where the trash originates.

During the study, Island University researchers will temporarily install oil spill booms, which are large floating barriers, in the bay before a storm occurs. For the study, the booms will be used to capture floating trash from the water’s surface. The booms will be placed at Cole Park, Oleander Point and across from Oso Creek. After a storm, researchers will collect and characterize the trash. The goal of the study is to collect debris from at least four storm events, but up to eight. At the end of the project, Conkle will work with the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program to share the results with the city and other stakeholders.  

“We will be starting the project within the next few weeks,” said Conkle. “We look forward to working with the city and hope that we can play a role in helping to fix a problem that is becoming increasingly obvious to our citizens and tourists.”

Conkle will be working with closely with the Environmental Services Superintendent Crystal Ybanez and the Water Utilities Department to ensure the proper placement and safety of the booms. The project also received authorization from Texas General Land Office, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Conkle conducts his research in the Coastal Health & Water Quality (C-HaWQ) Lab located in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The C-HaWQ Lab focuses on the fate, transport and health impacts of pollutants in coastal environments. For more information, visit conklelab.tamucc.edu